Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Review: Samsung’s Flagship Brings Latest High-End Specs, Useful Special Features And Massive Capacity Upgrades

 @FionnaatIBTf.agomuoh@ibtimes.com on December 16 2013 3:42 PM

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 has been on the market since late September and appears to be holding its own in the niche market for large-screen smartphones. The smartphone behemoth reportedly sold 5 million Galaxy Note 3 handsets within the product's first month on the market, and it has no doubt sold even more since then. It should be noted that certain markets, such as the U.S. and Japan did not offer the Galaxy Note 3 until well into October, which could be a sign that the Galaxy Note 3 has been a big hit overseas.

In general, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 has largely been well-received in the smartphone enthusiast community. Here’s our take on Samsung’s latest big thing.

Standard Specs/Improvements From The Galaxy Note 2

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 definitely packs far beefier specs than the Galaxy Note 2, which preceded it. The main difference is that the Galaxy Note 3 features a 5.7-inch 1920×1080 Full HD Super AMOLED display while maintaining roughly the same width as the Galaxy Note 2, which features a 5.5-inch 1280×720 HD Super AMOLED display. Depth and brightness have also improved with the diamond pixel RGBG PenTile display structure that the Galaxy Note 3 uses, especially when compared to the S-Stripe RGB seen on the Galaxy Note 3. Overall visual presentation on the Note 3 has greatly improved; tiny image details are much more visible than on the Note 2, and individual pixels are not visible.

For hardware, the Galaxy Note 3 features a 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core LTE processor and a 1.9GHz Exynos 5420 octa-core 3G processor, both of which pack more power than the 1.6 GHz Exynos 4 quad-core processor used in the Galaxy Note 2. The Note 3 also includes 32GB and 64GB storage options with micro SD expandable storage and 3GB of RAM, all of which are an increase from the 16GB, 32GB and 64GB options and 2GB RAM on the Note 2. The Galaxy Note 2 was sold with the 16GB model as the standard and most prominent model on the market, while the standard model for the Galaxy Note 3 is its 32GB option.

More powerful CPUs and increased RAM especially give the Galaxy Note 3 a functionality boost in that general screen handling and app operation are much smoother. There is little to no lag seen on the Galaxy Note 3, which runs Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. The Galaxy Note 2 introduced Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, an earlier iteration of the Jelly Bean line, which has seen general improvement over time. In addition, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is powered by a 3200mAh battery while the Galaxy Note is powered by a 3100mAh battery.

In 2013, Samsung has put a heavy focus on cameras and photography. Like its fellow 2013 flagship, the Samsung Galaxy S4, the Galaxy Note 3 features a 13-megapixel rear camera with a host of shooting modes as well as a 2-megapixel front camera. The Galaxy Note 2 features an 8-megapixel rear camera and 1.9-megapixel front camera. In the Note 3 there is definitely an increase in sharpness and detail within photos; however, issues with low-light photography make the Note 3 fall short, even with the increase in megapixels.

Connectivity between the Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Note 2 remain largely the same with 4G LTE, HSPA+, and Bluetooth; however, the Note 3 runs dual-band Wi-Fi (a/b/g/n) and also powers NFC, while the Note 2 runs single-band Wi-Fi (a/b/g/n/ac) and not NFC capabilities. 

Exclusive Features

Samsung has equipped the Galaxy Note 3 with many flagship specs, with main set being Air Command. Air Command directs users to the Action Memo, Screen Write, S-Finder, Scrapbook and Pen Window options, which with the Note 3’s improved S-Pen allows can easily navigate their Samsung Galaxy Note 3 handset with simple dot, circle and box motions.

Action Memo allows users to write notes and turn those notes into smartphone functions, such as writing a phone number and adding it to contacts, or writing a words and putting them into a text. Screen Write allows users to use their home screen as a writing canvas. S-Finder allows users to search for things within their device. Scrapbook allows users to save photos, videos, webpages etc. into “scrapbooks,” which can be accessed for future use. Pen Window allows users to access various app shortcuts, which can be viewed on top of other open apps, in a smaller window.

With each new Samsung Galaxy flagship, the debate over whether its features are actually useful or simply novelty continues. But many of the special features on the Galaxy Note 3 are practical for improved ease of use, and actually make the Galaxy Note 3 a "smart" phone. We find Action Memo and Pen Window most useful; however, other users many find benefits in other flagship features according to their specific needs. Whether they are saving pages, quickly searching, or quickly jotting down a note, there is bound to be a feature on the Galaxy Note 3 that appeals to any user.

Design and Handling

Many fans criticize Samsung for its use of plastic on its “premium” devices; however, with the Galaxy Note 3, the Korean manufacturer has stepped up its game with a premium look and feel on a polycarbonate exterior. The most notable physical feature on the Galaxy Note 3 is its faux-leather textured back panel, which is smooth and almost soft to the touch, and gives the device a grip, which stands to help users avoid careless drops. Despite being plastic, the textured back panel nearly looks like leather, which adds to its high-end appeal. It is reminiscent of a leather-bound notebook, something that Samsung played up in its marketing of the Galaxy Note 3.

The Galaxy Note 3 may not be an immediate choice for many due to its large size. Even those who enjoy larger screens may find the Note 3 a bit too big and possibly too wide for comfortable one-hand operation. In comparison to the Galaxy Note 3, our Samsung Galaxy S4 handset seems positively tiny. The Galaxy Note 3 does include software that allows users to shrink and move their screen for easier accessibility; however, it is up to users to decide whether bigger is better for them.

Battery Life And Charging

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 boasts an impressive battery life. The Note 3 lasted near entire days with moderate to heavy use. We experienced battery life similar to that seen on our Samsung Galaxy S4, with the exception that data was left on at all times. However, this was not strictly tested, just observed from general use. We would charge our Galaxy Note 3 handset in the morning, and have it discharged throughout the day and at night while sleeping. With this method the handset would be fully charged by about 11 a.m. and at or near the yellow warning battery level by about 7 a.m. the next day, the Galaxy Note 3 went up to 19 hours discharged each day with moderate to heavy use.

What we did strictly test was standby battery life, and when left to its own devices, the Note 3 has lasted nearly seven days on standby, with data left on. Our tests yielded that the Galaxy Note 3 lasts more than six days and 20 hours from full charge to the yellow warning battery on standby or with very light use.

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We also tested charging time for the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. The Note 3 features the new USB 3.0 port, which provides up to 900mA current in comparison to the 500mA currently provided by USB 2.0 ports. The USB 3.0 port reportedly boasts fast transfer and charging speeds, and with the Galaxy Note 3, it took just over 2 and half hours for the handset to be fully charged from dead to 100 percent. In comparison to the Galaxy S4, we don’t see much of a difference at our S4 handset equipped with a USB 2.0 port takes just under two hours to charge from dead to 100 percent. However, we take into consideration that the Galaxy Note 3 has a much larger battery (3200mAh) and overall capacity than the Galaxy S4 (2600mAh). In comparison to the Galaxy Note 2, which features a USB 2.0 port, averages about 3 hours from low battery to 100 percent, the Note 3 with its USB 3.0 port and larger battery does experience faster charging times. Notably, one of the issues users had with the Galaxy Note 2 was excessively long charging times, which appears to have been addressed with the upgraded technology in the Galaxy Note 3.  

Camera

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The 12-megapixel camera on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is not much different from the lens seen on the Galaxy S4. Though rumors indicated that the camera on the Galaxy Note 3 would feature optical image stabilization, it ultimately released without the feature. Still, we noted the Galaxy Note 3 camera is a bit better at capturing images that the Galaxy S4, even with an unsteady hand. Image quality between the two devices is roughly the same, though the Galaxy Note 3 images often appear soft around certain edges, where you won't see the same effects on a Galaxy s4 photo. One advantage of the Note 3 is that users don’t have to stand quite as still to capture a good image, while one advantage of the Galaxy S4 is that it captures better details. When zoomed in, images on the Note 3 do present a bit blurry, while with a little more effort images on the Galaxy S4 will present sharper detail.

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Price and Availability

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is marketed as a premium device, and its price tag does not let us forget that. On average, the Galaxy Note 3 sells for $300 with a two-year contract and $700 off contract, but this of course varies by carrier and retailer.

At Verizon the Galaxy Note 3 sells for $299.99 with a two-year contract and $699.99 at full price. At U.S. Cellular the Galaxy Note 3 sells for $299.99 with a two-year contract. At AT&T the Galaxy Note 3 sells for $299.99 with a two-year contract and $549.99 with one-year contract. Customers can also pay for the AT&T Galaxy Note 3 in 20 monthly payments of $35 under the AT&T Next program or at full price for $724.99. At Sprint the Galaxy Note 3 sells for $349.99 with a two-year contract and $699.99 at full price. At T-Mobile the Galaxy Note 3 sells for $199.99 upfront with 24 monthly payments of $21 under the network’s UNcarrier plan, and $703.99 at full price. Retailers including Amazon, Best Buy, and Radio Shack  also sell the Galaxy Note 3 under the various carrier plans and prices.

We keep in mind that in addition to being a premium, flagship device, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 also includes a number of features that keeps its price high, including its increased RAM and internal storage. Even with these increases; however, the price of the Galaxy Note 3 is not much different from the price of the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 during its initial release.

Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is definitely large and in charge. It brings the latest high-end specs, special features that are also practical and a substantial memory boost. But as always, even with its good points, the size of the Galaxy Note 3 is not for everyone. In addition to its large size, its price may also deter many prospective customers from choosing the Galaxy Note 3. Especially when you factor in that there are many smaller devices, boasting similar specs and smaller price tags. With the Galaxy Note 3, Samsung continues its niche line of devices that are suitable for select few that can really appreciate the Note 3 for what it is. If you can handle the Galaxy Note 3 in all its large-screened grandeur, we encourage you. If not, that’s okay, Note 3 is not for everybody.   

Follow me on Twitter @FionnaatIBT.

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